This spring, the Saint Joseph’s College campus hosted the second Multicultural Food Festival as a way to highlight diversity in the community. Basma Leyon ’21, vice president of Academic Senate, brought the idea of a food festival to the campus in her freshman year. She responded to the Mercy Center’s question of how to make Saint Joseph’s College more welcoming by suggesting a program she had helped run at Westbrook High School. There, she participated in a traditional food festival that started small but grew into a large event by her senior year. Basma said that the first year’s “turnout and positive feedback exceeded her expectations” which motivated her to make the Multicultural Food Festival an annual event.
The first festival was held in Baggot Street and produced a crowd big enough that all of the food was gone by the end of the night. The cultural dishes ran a wide variety, from Norway, Iraq, and El Salvador to India, Rwanda, Italy, and more! This year, the festival was moved to Pearson’s Cafe to make it more accessible to the community. This event invited students, faculty and staff to contribute and cook dishes.
Participants at the first annual Multicultural Food Festival Photo: Emma Joyce
“After the first event, we had complaints that people did not get food and wanted the thing to be a bigger event,” Basma explained. This festival allows for a deeper understanding of different cultures, and questions about the dishes and cultures are encouraged. To Basma, asking questions is the first step towards celebrating diversity at Saint Joseph’s College. “Just ask someone what their story is,” she says, “and by doing that you would have learned something you probably did not know and this is also a way to break away from stereotypes.”
Celebrating the different cultural backgrounds of the Saint Joseph’s College community is one of the goals of the Mercy Center, who helped organize the Multicultural Food Festival. It’s one of many ways to make students more comfortable on campus, which is where Basma got the idea to bring her high school tradition to Saint Joseph’s. “The Mercy Center gives the students the opportunity to have this event in order to spread culture on our campus and make people aware,” Basma said, stating that they helped her along the way in organizing it.
Events like these shine a spotlight on the unique stories and backgrounds found among the college community, shared over the common experience of exploring new foods.
Basma hopes that having the Multicultural Food Festival on campus invites more people to get a chance to try foods that they might not have known about and to ask questions if they are curious. “I just want to see everyone enjoy themselves and celebrate different cultures around the world.”